Backpacker goodbyes: How we get used to them
It starts with a goodbye
Your brimming with excitement, bursting with expectation, with a lining of anxiety and nervousness as you’re about to embark on a journey into the unknown. But, for a moment as your about to close the door on your old life, the reality of what you’re about to do hits. You get a little sinking feeling, some sadness, then before you’ve even started your journey you’re saying your first backpacker goodbyes.
You have to say goodbye to your family, your friends, your loved ones, and depending on the type of trip, possibly even your home. For some it can be a struggle to let go, for others it’s joy, knowing that beyond those goodbyes you’re off on an adventure of a lifetime.
At that point, you think those will be the hardest goodbyes, there isn’t a single moment when you think backpacker goodbyes will be as regular as the hello’s you’ll say.
Excited to meet people and make new friends but no thought of backpacker goodbyes.
We’ve all done it, imagined and played it over in our heads, dreamt up the potential people we will encounter from other backpackers to locals. We wonder If we will make friends, and if we do, what type of friends they’ll turn into.
I’m sure we’ve all read blogs and watched vlogs with solo backpackers making friends, having hook-ups, falling in love, meeting soulmates, finding mirror images, even meeting our doppelgangers. But not once does it occur to any of us, that we will have to say goodbye to those people at some point.
As an experienced solo backpacker, I can tell you, there will be all sorts of people you will end up meeting, some you can’t wait to see the back of, some you’ll have fun with, and others you will grow very close to. If you’re curious to see what type of friends you might end up making along the way this post shows the different types of friends you can make.)
Backpacker goodbyes are hard at first
As a solo backpacker, it’s harder not to make friends than it is to, especially if you’re within a hostel environment. Hostels are great places to meet people, and most of the time you can find yourself making friends within minutes with a simple hello. And, as is such with hostel environments and the intense vacuum that sometimes proceeds within, you could meet somebody and by the end of the day think you’ve known each other for years.
It sounds funny, but us backpackers, no matter how independent we are, we still like to have company. We can get attached very quickly, especially with like-minded people, before you know it you could be best-friends, drinking partners, lovers, planning the rest of your trip and lives together. It’s not always like that but it can happen, (speaking from personal experience here).
When we make these new friends, who see things the way we do, have the same thought process, want the same things as we do, it’s natural to bond. We grow attached but there is one thing that we forget. We came separately and in all likeliness will go our separate ways at one point.
The first is always the hardest
The first experience of backpacker goodbyes is the hardest one. You’re just not prepared for it, imagine this. You’ve just started your trip and you’ve grown close to someone or a group of people. Everything is going swimmingly well, you’re on the same wavelength, have the same interests but then wham, like a bolt of lightning the bombshell is dropped. Either you or they are moving on and leaving – just imagine how you would feel?
You have to say goodbye, you go your separate ways. There is a sadness there because naturally you will miss them. Yeah, sure you might keep in contact through skype or social media but they’re not there physically with you anymore.
As solo backpackers we’ve already left behind our friends and family back home, we don’t have a security net of comfort to help us. So saying those first backpacker goodbyes can have the potential to send you into free fall, because the closer you got the more you depended on each other. You relied, maybe even trusted that person. You end up feeling a little empty, you forget you started your trip alone and feel you can’t continue without that person.
In my experience a lot of homesickness starts from backpackers saying their goodbyes to each other.
My personal experience of my first backpacker goodbyes
The first time I had to say my backpacker goodbyes was a weird experience for me. It was weird because I’m what you might call emotionally challenged. What I mean is, I don’t often feel sadness when I’m meant to. I just don’t feel anything. I remember back to Sydney in 2010, guests I wasn’t that attached to left, I couldn’t care less, I knew I wouldn’t see them again, they left no imprint on me to have any emotional connection.
However there was a group I was very close with. We had actually become long-termers in the hostel and were more like a large family rather than just friends. The group spent practically every waking hour with each other. There were times we even forgot we were backpackers, in another country or even in a hostel. It was more like our family home than a hostel, it felt like we’d be there forever.
When the time came, it was a shock to the system, because it was hard to take. I did in fact feel something. There was sadness, an emptiness, with me but all over the hostel, it was quite a downbeat atmoshphere. It was as if a piece of us had been ripped away. For a while it hurt and was painful to cope.
For those of us who remained the dynamics shifted, we closed ranks, become a tighter knit group and unfairly we made it hard for otthers to join. The next flock of backpackers that came through had no chance, because we just compared them to those that left and felt they couldn’t measure up.
After a while, as time went on, we got over it, we became welcoming to new backpackers and the cycle of making new friends started over.
Hello…goodbye; getting used to it: the cycle never stops.
It is hard to get over saying backpacker goodbyes the first few times, and for a lot of backpackers it’s the hardest thing they have to do. After a while though, you do start to get used to the hello’s and goodbyes. It becomes part of the package with long-term solo traveling, the constant cycle of people coming and going out of your life.
For some backpackers they never get used to it, for others like myself it does get easier. Not because we’re cold and have no heart but you just prepare yourself to not get too attached all of the time to everybody you meet.
The more experienced you get, the more you realise you’ll meet new people at every turn, you never know who will come into your life or how they’ll potentially impact it.
Over the years I’ve had this experience:
Other backpackers and locals constantly flow in and out of our lives, the majority of them will leave no imprint or impact your life in any way. Then there will be some that you get along with, possibly even connect on social media with but eventually will drift apart. However it’s the smaller number of people you get so attached to, those will be the hardest goodbyes you have to say.
Those are the times it doesn’t get easier to let go but you learn to suck it up and keep going, safe in the knowledge you will meet other and make new friends. And if you’ve made a strong connection it’s not like you won’t see or talk to them again.
Dealing with backpacker goodbyes
It depends on the type of person you are in how you’ll deal with it. Some backpackers stay in constant contact, talk to each other every day, skype each other, or other means of communication. There are those that just shut down, like slamming a wall down. Then there are those who try not to get too attached, keep themselves at arm’s length to protect their own feelings. Sometimes you deal with backpacker goodbyes by simply reminding yourself why you chose to backpack solo in the first place.
Saying your backpacker goodbyes will for the most part be one of the most difficult things you have to do on a regular basis but if you learn to deal with it, then it does get easier.
You’ll know when you’re getting good at saying your backpacker goodbyes because of the way you say them. They will get less sincere, less heartfelt, empty promises of meeting up again, or organising reunions you have no intention of are made and once that person or group has gone, it’s out of sight out of mind. You start your cycle again. Sounds harsh but it happens.
An example of this was during my time in Lisbon in the summer of 2019
A group of us had got quite close to each other in the hostel, all solo travellers but I was the only experienced one. The rest were all on their first trips. I could see the way they all bonded, how close they were getting and although I was there with them, I kept myself on the periphery.
Not because I didn’t get along with them, but I knew it wasn’t long before we all had to go our separate ways. That day we were all scheduled to leave, their bubble burst, it was like their hearts had been wrenched out with the breakup of the group. There was crying, there was sadness, an emptiness like they were all losing an arm.
We all kept in touch at first, and I know it took them a lot longer to recover than I did but now they’ve gone through that first experience, it’s put them in good stead in knowing what to expect. And, not surprisingly as time went on, we lost touch, drifted away on our own paths, we are just after thoughts to each other.
Numb to backpacker goodbyes
The cold reality of it is as a long-term solo backpacker there are things you think are inconceivable to get used to beforehand, but the more you travel the more you get numb to them. It’s the same with your first-time experiences in a hostel, or a shared room, catching a local bus, eating local food for the first time, having to sacrifice something you don’t think you can. Saying your backpacker goodbyes has the same numbing effect.
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Solo backpacker goodbyes